How does Big Data Work in Healthcare?


The healthcare sector has always generated vast amounts of data as part of its record-keeping and compliance and regulatory requirements. The biggest components in healthcare are the health professionals themselves, the health facilities, and the financing institutions that support the professionals and the facilities.

At every turn, health professionals and the different facilities that they belong to are constantly churning out an array of information that may include medical histories, medical and clinical data such as that acquired from labs and imaging, as well as other private and medical data.

In the past, it was common practice to store such medical information in typed reports and files. However, as technology has continued to advance, this practice has almost been phased out. With the advent of powerful computer systems, almost all clinical exams and medical records these days have been digitized.

Electronic Health records have now become the norm and with these electronic record inevitably comes the advent of big data. According to a provision in President Obama’s 2014 economic stimulus package, all medical records turned digital, thus allowing healthcare professionals to better manage and store their patients’ data in the cloud. Not only has the digitization process made it so much easier to link fragmented medical records, but it has also helped to considerably save time and money in healthcare.

What exactly is big data?

Big data refers to extremely large amounts of data that cannot be managed using traditional software or regular internet-based platforms. According to HealthCareWeekly, big data exceeds the conventionally required amount of storage, processing, or analytical power. The phrase big data has become commonly used across almost every sector today whether that related to academic research or manufacturing.

The most challenging task as it relates to big data is its management. Given that big data cannot be managed using traditional software and tools, the need to develop technically advanced applications and software capable of handling big data has arisen. Thankfully, innovations such as AI and machine learning algorithms are making it easier to make sense of and manage big data sets in ways that were impossible before.

So how has big data affected healthcare?

Big data has made the role of the CIO prominent

Before big data took center stage in healthcare, the role of the Chief Information Officer was minor in the healthcare industry. However, this is completely different today thanks to the changed infrastructure in healthcare.

Big data has redefined the way data is collected, stored, and shared. As such, the role of the CIO in healthcare institutions has become a lot more diversified than it once was. Today, CIOs are responsible for a range of responsibilities chief among them being data security as well as innovation and transformation in the healthcare sector.

Big Data has helped improve health tracking

Big data when used alongside the Internet of Things is helping to change the way medical professionals are tracking different patient statistics and vitals. Aside from the basic wearable technology that is being used by patients to track their sleep and exercise, there are newer medical innovations that go as far as monitoring a patient’s glucose levels, blood oxygen, pulse oximeter, and more.

This constant state of monitoring of one’s vitals alongside the sets of data collected allows healthcare professionals to keep more people out of the ER since they can identify problems before they escalate. This has helped to reduce healthcare costs as well as mortality rates.

In particular, big data has eliminated the need for cardiac monitoring at hospitals because patients can just do that themselves on their smartphones. Tech such as wearable adhesives patches that are attached to one’s skin is used to remotely transmit the information to a monitoring app. The patches are so thin and easy to conceal in one’s clothing that they do not interfere with the wearer’s mobility or other functions.

Reduced overall costs

The price of healthcare is not cheap. But big data has been a great addition to the sector as it has helped to considerably reduce costs while making processes faster and more efficient. Big data uses predictive analysis to predict the rates of admission, which aids staff allocation thus helping hospitals to save money and resources.

The use of big data in healthcare has always fallen behind other industries due to obvious security and privacy concerns. However, EHRs are quickly becoming the most widespread application of big data in healthcare and it is helping to bring costs down. For example, hospitals are using EHRs to trigger notifications and warnings that allow a patient to better track their prescriptions which eliminates the need for hospital visits or admissions.

Leveraging big data for effective marketing

Data and analytics are also being used to improve marketability to new customers and patient pools. According to ComboApp, data-driven marketing pays attention to valuable insights hidden in big data that help hospitals understand the behaviors, preferences, and vulnerabilities facing their customers or patients.

The insights derived from big data helps healthcare professionals:

  • Better understand the needs and wants of their customers/patients.
  • When hospitals better understand what their patients need then they can work on creating more personalized and effective care and experiences for them.
  • Improve their operational efficiencies so that there are fewer complaints among patients and staff.

Despite the power of big data in marketing, a lot of healthcare organizations are still struggling to establish systems and invest in the right sets of tools that will allow them to fully exploit the power of big data. Overcoming these barriers is something that these organizations must do if they want to deliver improved results not only for their patients but also for their physicians, support staff, and the establishment as a whole.

Final Thoughts

The information gathered from big data goes a long way in giving healthcare providers more insights than they would traditionally have. Collecting big data has allowed for better decision-making, fewer instances of accidents and guesswork, as well as enhanced inclusive patient care.

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